(See endnotes 99, 100) (Also see the section on “Medical Waste” in Chapter 8, “Healthcare Environment and Infection Control”)

Medical waste consists of materials including substances contaminated with blood or other bodily fluids from nursing homes, hospitals, clinics, doctors’ offices, dentists, veterinarians, blood banks, funeral homes, etc. Sharps are a particular problem because they are usually contaminated and can easily penetrate the skin of an individual handling the material.

In 1988, because syringes and other medical materials were washing up on the beaches on the Atlantic seaboard, Congress passed a 2-year demonstration Medical Waste Tracking Act for certain covered states on the East Coast. The program has expired and there is now no federal control in this area. However, many states have put into effect their own programs by law. Typically, medical waste includes: cultures and stocks of infectious materials; human pathological waste including blood and blood products; sharps; animal wastes from research and sick animals; isolation wastes from people with communicable diseases; unused sharps; and any other contaminated waste material from individuals with communicable diseases. The program covers those who generate the waste, those who transport the waste, and the treatment, destruction, and disposal facilities including incinerators and special steam sterilizers.

Although there is a distinction made in medical waste programs between what is called noninfectious medical waste including IV bags, tubing, non-bloody gloves, packaging, urine-soaked waste, feces, vomit and blood-tainted waste materials, and infectious medical waste including blood-saturated waste, pathological and anatomical waste, cultures of infectious agents, sharps, isolation wastes, contaminated animal carcasses and bedding, this is really just a matter of degree of the level of contamination. Even though the first group appears to be relatively safe and is put into the normal solid waste stream, it is still a potential source of contamination and should be handled with great care. Obviously, the second group is highly infectious and must be considered as infectious medical waste and disposed of with the greatest of care to avoid contamination of the workers, other individuals, and the environment of the institution and the community at large.

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